Why we support the fight against SOPA and PIPA

To begin with, read this article about a hip-hop website that got taken down by the government for completely fraudulent reasons, and the headache they had to go through to get reinstated. And then this one, which shows why GoDaddy supported the bill and the actions it would allow. Or how about this example of what the bills would mean for even mainstream hobbies, like sports.

Now consider this: we post copyrighted material on the site every day without permission. Go to any random review - you see that italicized block of text at the beginning, taken from the back of the packaging? The companies that released the toys own the copyright on that, and we certainly never asked their lawyers if we could reproduce it on our site. Every GI Joe filecard, every MotU bio, every explanation of what Minimates MAX are about, that stuff is copyrighted material and we're making it publicly available for free.

Marvel owns the distinct appearance of Spider-Man, right? That means publishing an image of Spider-Man is copyright infringement - any image, not just scans of the comics. Here, watch this:

Oh snap, I just broke the law! And I brought all of OAFE down with me! That's an image of Spider-Man, and we just published it illegally. Yes, it's a photo I took of a toy I own, but the language of the bill is so decidedly vague that I could face criminal charges for that little piece of code. You drew a picture of Spidey and posted it online? The site hosting it is now in violation of SOPA. If that's your own site, it's in danger of being shut down. If that's a site like Deviant Art, they're also in danger of being shut down - and what do you think is more likely, that Deviant Art will actively police every image anyone uploads to make sure there are no copyrighted characters in them, or that Deviant Art will stop accepting submissions altogether rather than risk missing a single upload?

Detractors of the protest against SOPA say that no company would reasonably be expected to act this way - to that we say "who ever said anything about being reasonable?" Do you know why contract lawyers get paid so much? Because they have to go through documents like this and find every exploitable loophole. Contracts are written so there's no wiggle room, because if they're not, somebody will find it and wiggle! If the current economic crisis has taught us nothing, it's that companies will always act like dicks if there isn't something to say they can't.

As seen in the GoDaddy story we linked to above, a site was shut down because one business complained about a bad review. Bad review? We post those all the time! Allow us to present a hypothetical situation: we'll use NECA as an example, because they're actually cool and connect with their fans, and so it's unlikely they would ever do anything like this. We choose them because while we want to show you how this situation could arise, we don't want anyone to get confused and wrongly think that anything even remotely similar has actually happened.

Say we post Monkey Boy's review of the Predator two-pack. And while Monkey Boy loved the City Hunter figure, he thought the cloaked Berserker was a really bad idea. Okay, that part wasn't hypothetical. Anyway, imagine Randy Falk reads that review, and thinks Monkey Boy's opinion is going to hurt sales. So as a representative of NECA, he calls our hosting provider and files a complaint about the content of our site. After all, that review uses the text from the back of the packaging, and that's copyrighted material. So an official from the company calls and says we're pirating their content, and even though the text was used for review purposes, the law would demand that our hosts shut us down.

So, to be clear: this isn't based on anything that happened. I don't know if Randy has read the two-pack review, and if he did what he thought of it, but you can bet that even if he didn't like Monkey Boy's opinion of the Berserker Predator he wouldn't be calling our host about it. NECA isn't that petty, but they're not the only company in the world. Remember when Geoff Beckett tried to get CBR to delete a message board thread because people were complaining about Shocker Toys? Yes, Geoff has matured and mellowed a lot since then, but can you honestly say the old Geoff wouldn't have been the sort to try to get a site taken down for a bad review?

But even the Geoff from several years in the past is (or was) just a single person - how about a large, faceless corporation? Consider Time Warner, the corporate megalith that owns DC Comics. They've always supported the MPAA and RIAA efforts to go after pirates, so it's no surprise they support SOPA/PIPA. Now, how much do you think DC (with the weight of Warner Brothers behind it) likes our Hal Jordan is a pedophile thing? It's currently protected as a parody, but we illustrate it with images from the comics they published, and that counts as piracy. Suddenly DC has a lever to use to get it taken down, because it's something that conflicts with how they want to present the character.

The MPAA is complaining about the blackout, calling it "bully" tactics - which is a sure sign that something is going right. They want this bill passed because it will put the power back in their hands, rather than continuing the decentralization the internet has been accomplishing for years. It's the thrashings of a dying animal. Even traditional media outlets like Reuters are trying to downplay the impact of the protest, claiming that no "major" sites are participating - "only" Wikipedia (the "online dictionary?") and Reddit. And of course, Google. Yeah, that's not a major site or anything.

SOPA is too vague and gives too much power to the corporations. No websites can afford to take a "it probably won't apply to me" attitude, because it absolutely can apply to you. So we're joining the blackout because we can't allow everyone else to do our fighting for us.

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21 Responses to Why we support the fight against SOPA and PIPA

  1. Yakub Shabazz says:

    While I absolutely agree with most of your points and absolutely disagree with SOPA, a few of your examples on possibilities ring a little hollow. Just as you mention the Hal Jordan thing being okay via the protection of parody, most content your site posts in the vein of review would still be allowable under the Fair Use claim. This is how traditional media outlets have provided movie and music reviews for decades - if you're using photos that you took to illustrate various points of the review, or including quotes from the packaging, this is all relevant to Fair Use, which the Supreme Court has found to fall under the protections of the First Amendment. Of course, that doesn't at all mean that some PO'd company couldn't *try* to have your site taken down, and of course we've seen firsthand how websites typically respond even to the faintest claim of lawsuit aimed in their direction (YouTube being particularly cowardly when it comes to acknowledging its users' First Amendment rights - even parody). But what you're actually doing on the site, by and large, is perfectly legal and protected by the First Amendment, and even the passing of SOPA wouldn't *theoretically* change any of that.

    • yo go re says:

      You're entirely right, but it's that "try" that's the problem.

      It's like when Penny Arcade did their Strawberry Shortcake strip: they were 100% covered by parody laws, but it would have taken a lot of time and money to prove that. The law, as written, would have ISPs actively block content when they receive a complaint. The section about "The Vigilante Provision" in the EFF article sums up the problem well: the people in charge of flipping the switch on a site don't need to know or understand what "fair use" is...

  2. Luis Dalida says:

    Long time fan and visitor of your site, first time commenting. I kind of get the gist of this, gotta ask does that mean that there is a possibilty,like for example proboards could remove my joe pictures in a forum on the basis that it is copyrighted?

    and that if I ask as a friend to get something in the U.S., I can't send him a pic of what the package looks like, on the basis that the pic would get taken down?

    • Gendou says:


      Should Hasbro (or IDW, or Paramount, or whoever owns a GI JOE copyright) decide that they don't like your content, they could issue a takedown notice to your image hosting or to Proboards.

      Under the current DMCA rules, the site can then decide whether or not the complaint actually infringes and move from there. Under the new SOPA/PIPA rules, the host is obligated to shut down your site while they look into the matter or face stiff penalties.

      As seen in the case of UMG vs. Megaupload, content providers absolutely cannot be trusted with this kind of power.

      SOPA/PIPA is the internet equivalent of seeing that shoplifting is a problem at Wal*Mart, so you pass a law granting Wal*Mart the power to chop the hands off of suspected shoplifters.

    • yo go re says:

      That would be an extreme "worst case" scenario: it's unlikely, but yes, it's possible.

      The reason people are upset is because the way the bills are written, there's nothing that would prevent Hasbro (for instance) from flat-out telling proboards that they had to remove all GI Joe content. The chances of that happening are admittedly very slim, but the possibility still exists, and some day there would be some company that was a big enough jerk to take advantage of it...

  3. Savonti says:

    Yo, I've been coming here for years, and most of the time I can't stand you. You make these aside comments about "Fanboys" like you're somehow superior, or that someone's an asshole because they want the things they like to be handled respectfully; but that's not why I'm commenting today. I woke up this morning to see how many of the sites I go to actually sacked up and did the right thing today by going dark. You've stood when others, (who have closely followed SOPA for some time) have not.

    Yo Go Re, I rarely agree with what you have to say, but I damn sure respect you for what you're doing. I'm glad to see OAFE in the fight, I salute you and keep it up!

    Luis I'd take a look at those links, do some more digging, this issue is too important to be in the dark about.

    • yo go re says:

      Well, I'm glad you've stuck with us! And never be afraid to call me out for being a jerk, whether on here, on the message board or via email: it's not going to get you in trouble or anything. If I reserve the right to pick on things I don't like, that also means I have to expect to hear about it from the people who do like them...

      • Savonti says:

        Very true, just isn't the time or place (in fact I only brought it up at all to illustrate how happy I was and dare I say it proud that you OAFE joined in). Again, my hat is off to you.

  4. Spencer Martin says:

    OK, assuming that you weren't exaggerating on any of this... Well, this is royally f***ed up. Just like Congress to piss people off when they're already whipped up in a frenzy. I, too, have been a huge fan of your site, and I strongly oppose this SOPA bill. Y'know, "SOPA" actually translates to "soup" in Spanish.

  5. Gendou says:

    Long-time reader here.

    This is easily one of the best explanations that I've yet seen for why SOPA / PIPA are bad for the entire internet. A lot of emotional language is being thrown around on both sides, and this article cleanly and concisely explains the problems with the laws as they stand, giving examples without bogging the reader down with needless information or theatrics.

    Thanks for posting this, yo go re.
    I've reblogged links to this article on both Twitter and Facebook.

  6. tristan says:

    so does this mean...our daily serving of action figure goodness is over? or are you gonna find ways to make this site active again, how about a forum? or some site where you'd need to register to view the contents...dunno if that'd help, just a suggestion....

    since its my first time to comment, i'd take this opportunity to say that yo go re is the coolest 🙂

    love the way you break it down, man

    • monkey boy says:

      thankfully, SOPA isn't expected to pass. the white house has even spoken out against it. however, you have to raise awareness, and you can never be too careful. and the fact that it's even got this far with such a vague description of what it entails shows how those who have the most money can and will try to get away with whatever they want.

      • Savonti says:

        You're absolutely right, even if it doesn't pass (and as you said, it's looking like it won't), this is just a battle. The war's just started, but I hope the show that has been shown in protest of SOPA will get even more people in the fight.

  7. clark says:

    I'm really shocked that a republican authored this bill. Where are his conservative constituents that should be all about less government interference? His district should be raising heck over this!

    Thanks for the breakdown. I never heard of this until this morning, briefly on the news while I was trying to get dressed and out the door, so I appreciate all of the links. Proposals like this make me sick.

    • yo go re says:

      Now see, THAT's a big part of the problem: there's enough anger about this bill that there should be no way someone wouldn't have heard about it until today, but the traditional media outlets have had very little to say about it, so unless you mingle with the nerd-rage crowd, you woke up this morning and got confused about why you couldn't use Wikipedia. Because it didn't affect their interests, news outlets didn't think it was a real problem...

      • PrfktTear says:

        I'll tune into a local political talk show which typically leans towards the right, but its entertaining to say the least. Yesterday not a word was said about SOPA/PIPA, instead "sex education" was the dominating topic. I'm interested to see if anything is mentioned about yesterday's blackouts today!

  8. Alex Torres says:

    Hi, long time reader, first time posting.
    First of all, i'm from mexico and i love your work, guys, so i will really hate if someone try to block you.
    Second, i know that SOPA is a US Federal act... but what if your hosting is not in US or something??... maybe am a completly stupid about this, so, if i am, sorry.
    Also, i have to say that, since i found action figures reviews like OAFE and others I HAD BOUGHT MORE FIGURES THAT BEFORE. So... if SOPA whipes all the "criminal" pages, aren't thy F≤king their sales???
    Thank you for your hard and awesome work, guys. Sorry if i wrote something wrong.

    • yo go re says:

      One of the original intentions was to stop U.S. users from visiting "rogue foreign sites" - in other words, it directly targeted sites hosted elsewhere. If there were an oafe.co.mx and it was deemed to host pirated content, then the law would make our ISPs block it, similar to the way China's government blocks sites it considers inappropriate...

  9. googum says:

    I emailed my Representative Tuesday (McMorris-Rodgers, R-WA) and got back a carefully worded, artfully vague response about fighting piracy. It reads like she's leaning to the SOPA side, but is cryptic enough she could go either way.

  10. WM-R says:

    I'll be honest. I used to download games and stuff off the Internet back when I was a poor student. Now that I have a steady income, I generally prefer to buy the real deal except for one little problem: I simply cannot get the real thing, whereas copies are a dime-a-dozen (sometimes literally!) around these parts. Sure, I order online, but that's because I can afford it. But people not so well-off? Given the choice between an expensive luxury and a cheaper knock-off, can you blame them?

    My biggest fear is the 3rd party fan companies I've grown to love. Fansproject (Ultra Magnus/ City Commander, the Combaticon add-ons, etc) and the like would be easy pickings if Hasbro decided to take them down. So far, it's nice they haven't (or noted them as a problem, officially at least). Stuff like fansubs of anime and fan-translations of manga would also be high on the list of things taken down.

    I can't do anything since I'm not American. But I can root for the ones who are fighting it and trying to get the sponsors to see how these bills are a bad idea. As they are, at any rate.

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